If you ask Amir Khan what he considers the most important U.S. fights involving Englishmen, he is quick put himself right in the middle of that conversation.
Lennox Lewis’ knockout of Mike Tyson, Ricky Hatton packing MGM Grand against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiaoand Khan’s own 2011 fight of the year against Marcos Maidana, along with his T-Mobile Arena-opening knockout loss to Canelo Alvarez were also famed British bouts.
Now, at 32, Khan (33-4, 20 KOs) returns to New York to meet unbeaten welterweight Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) in an ESPN pay-per-view on Saturday night.
“Fighting for the pound-for-pound title, winning another world title and fighting at Madison Square Garden would have to rank it as one of the best,” Khan said. “I’ve reached the position of these biggest fights because I work very hard. I believe God wants me to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. It’s not easy to do, but I have the skills to do it and this is my best chance to do it against someone of my own weight.”
Khan’s case is also helped by the independent path he has taken to stardom, working for promoters Oscar De La Hoya, Eddie Hearn, Bob Arum and Premier Boxing Champions powerful manager Al Haymon.
Heavyweights Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder seem to have insurmountable walls between them because of their various promoters. The thought of a Crawford fight against Errol Spence Jr. seems bound to become a Mayweather-Pacquiao-like drawn-out affair because of Arum and Haymon’s toxicity.
Meanwhile, Khan has figured out a way to forge his path while navigating the business of boxing.
“A lot of fighters have fights they’re supposed to take or can’t take,” Khan said. “I never wanted to be known as one of those fighters who ducked all the big fights. When it came down to the biggest fights in my career, I’m going to take that opportunity.
“When I was asked to fight Canelo, there were people in his own division who didn’t want to fight him. I jumped up to do it. That’s the type of character I am. Sometimes being too brave can be bad, but it’s also about challenging yourself, making sure that I don’t want to leave the sport thinking, ‘I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that, and I left without fully reaching my abilities.’”
Khan takes into account the ways he’s lost previously in this country – a knockout loss to former two-division champion Danny Garcia and the 2016 sudden sixth-round flooring by Alvarez in which Khan led on scorecards.
“I was going to go in there smart, stick to my jab, not going to give him those big shots,” Khan recalled before requiring an ambulance ride following the heavier Alvarez’s thunderous punch to the jaw. “Toward the end, when he caught me, I had just been thinking, ‘I won this round … .’ My feet were heavy, though, and I got a little bit relaxed.
Khan trainer Virgil Hunter, who previously directed the retired former pound-for-pound king Andre Ward, said his Bay Area training camp with Khan has focused on “consistency, attentiveness, staying focused every second of the round to recognize those subtle changes Crawford tries to present, not being so overzealous.
“This fight is mental. If he can focus in and execute the plan, he should be fine.”
In a test of mental gamesmanship Thursday, Crawford and Khan brushed into each other at the hotel lobby and Crawford challenged a friend of Khan’s. Khan defused the situation by informing Nebraska’s Crawford, “there’s no problem.”
Some might say the Brit backed down. Others would say he showed the composure that Saturday night demands.
“Petty stuff. I’m 32. These are little things people play to get under your nerves, so I just ignored it,” Khan said.
There’s no ignoring that Khan’s chin is suspect. Even as a heavy favorite in a September victory over little-known Samuel Vargas, Khan was dropped, what fight insiders see as the residue of prior damage.
“I see the fight being competitive the first couple rounds until Terence catches his rhythm,” Crawford trainer Brian McIntyre said, admitting he’s reviewed Alvarez-Khan several times. “[Khan] was doing good until he got careless. There is a knack for him to slow down after about four rounds. He gets fatigued and starts taking stupid chances, and that’s when he gets caught.”
Khan soaked in the criticism, and stood up for himself. taking notice of the champion’s thin resume of beaten foes.
“This is my own weight. I’m not going to experience the power that Canelo had. [Crawford] has a lot of skill and speed. It will be a game of chess at times, and then there’ll be a time we’re both going to have to dig deep and pressure one another,” Khan said.